we've been cooking with cast iron recently. i have to say i rather like it. we've got a large 12-inch skillet that was given to me by my grandpa when he was cleaning out his garage, and also a tiny 5-inch skillet that i got from a restaurant after (a very long time ago) begging the waiter to let me have it. for the most part we can get by on just these two pans. we've got a couple of stainless steel ones on hand in case we're cooking up a bunch of food, but that's pretty rare.
anyway, cast iron is easy to clean, provided that it's well seasoned and that you don't use soap--my good friend kelli is super grossed out by this, but using soap would strip the oils from the pans, taking away every last bit of their non-sticky functionality. you also can't put them into the dishwasher--something i learned about 8 months back. the result, if you don't know, is a highly rusted mess that needs to be scrubbed, sanded and seasoned multiple times to get it back to good.
what's the deal with nonstick pans? here's what i've found:
1. nonstick cookware is coated with a chemical called polytetrafluoroethylene (ptfe). when ptfe gets very hot, it released hazardous fumes.
2. the synthetic chemical (perfluorooctanoic acid) used to make ptfe is linked to cancer & birth defects in animals and "may" pose a risk to humans. the "society of the plastics industry" found perfluorooctanoic acid in the blood of 95% of the u.s. population.
3. dupont teflon, the best-known brand of nonstick cookware, recommends that users not heat pans over 500 degrees--which one can only assume is to prevent the release of chemical fumes. they also recommend cooking with their products in a well-ventilated area.
4. according to the environmental working group (a non-profit environmental research organization), "a preheated pan on high heat can exceed 600 degrees in 2-5 minutes."
5. birds cannot tolerate the toxic chemicals released by overheated nonstick cookware. the same fumes that can cause flu-like symptoms in humans can easily kill a pet bird.
all of our nonstick cookware (except our pancake griddle) has found a brand-new home in the garage for now. when excellent alternatives are right at hand, i don't feel there's any reason to use something that "might" be harmful, or that i have to "watch carefully to avoid overheating" and "use in a ventilated area." don't you think?
i've been changing out my nonstick bakeware over the last few years with enamelware and glass, just because they look nicer in my kitchen. now i'll have my eyes out for a loaf pan or two, and probably a cake pan, along with a used cast iron pancake griddle. maybe i'll find something at the next antique fair.
and then i will worry no more about the ick of nonstick!